Ethics and Advertising: Is There Truth in Communication?

Is today's advertising still credible? Here's a glimpse of how the rise of the internet and social media has revolutionized the relationship between ethics and communication.

Yesterday morning, Tuesday, March 15, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a conference here in Milan presenting the birth of an Italian startup as an independent institute of ethical communication.

This initiative aims to position itself as a public entity capable of mediating between consumers and companies to create a sort of support and safeguard for both parties.

This conference brought up the delicate topic of ethics and advertising, prompting me to reflect on the role of communication in society and how far a advertising message has the right to push and dare without risking slipping into illegality.

Reflecting on a theme like this is important not only for the consumer, who has the right to feel protected, but also for all those realities that make communication their work, and for companies that must make themselves known and gain the trust of the public through advertising.

Ethics and Advertising: Is Communication Good or Bad?

The public, especially the Italian one, feels disillusioned these days regardless of everything.

Unlike a few years ago, the average consumer now feels the need to gather more information about the products they purchase and the services offered to them. Over time, they’ve learned not to trust what they see on television or read on billboards.

Thanks to the advent of the internet, users are no longer mere “sponges” that absorb any information but have become increasingly skeptical of grand promises and messages conveyed by advertising slogans.

And who can blame them?

For years, advertising has tried to abide by the rules of sales and marketing, where the primary goal was to increase revenue without caring too much about the ethical or social value of their actions.

Advertising must convey the “irresistibility” of the product and must be capable of creating a need in the consumer to entice them to purchase the product or service.

However, in my opinion, ethical and respectful values haven’t always been respected, and many advertisements aired on television or displayed on billboards have deceived the public with catchy but misleading claims.

So, in the face of consumer distrust towards advertising, what should be the goal of communication agencies and marketing companies?

In 2016, consumers feel the need to feel protected and regain trust in advertising and the companies that market their brands.

This is precisely why the internet and social media have been so successful in the world of advertising and marketing!

Social media and the web, in general, have managed to literally overturn the rules of advertising and communication in just a few years, including the relationship between ethics and advertising.

What makes the web so attractive to consumers is the transparency: there is no room for lies because they would be quickly discovered and exposed.

Thanks to the power of instant and direct messaging on social media, users have transformed from mere spectators to protagonists, communicating with each other by expressing their opinions and personal views.

Today, before purchasing a product or service, the public consults the web and seeks the opinions of those who have already tried that particular product or brand. People trust the judgment of others because they perceive them as equals, on their level, and are confident that they have no ulterior motives related to sales or otherwise.

For this reason, communication agencies and companies must create honest and sincere advertising, telling a story through real stories that can resonate with people.

Marketing must address culture and philosophy to make communication more human and transparent, respecting the consumer.

It’s necessary to create advertising campaigns that express ethical values that can enhance and express the strength of a brand through honest, concrete, and creative communication.

Returning to my initial question of whether there is truth in communication, my answer is yes, and it’s found on social networks and the web:

In 2016, it’s no longer enough to appear in a television commercial; it’s necessary to be present on social media where one can share oneself and one’s experiences through honest communication, interact with one’s audience, and advertise ethically!